ALL HERE IS ACE: The Fall’s First Decade (1977-1986)
A guest posting by JONDER
I started this ICA before Mark E. Smith‘s death, but found it hard to reduce The Fall‘s first and greatest decade to ten songs. It was a period of boundless creativity, as the group moved from strength to strength with an astonishing series of singles and albums.
Sean O’Neal observed in the AVClub.com, “Most Fall fans don’t have something as pedestrian as favorite albums or songs, but rather favorite eras and lineups.” For me, nothing surpasses the bass-driven, double drummer sound of these years, topped with trebly guitars and Mark’s distinctive delivery. The lyrics bristle with dark wit and undisguised contempt for the scene, the press, record labels, musicians, the city of London, and even the audience.
1. Crap Rap/Like To Blow – Smith introduces the group as Northern outsiders. The Fall’s 1979 debut album, Live At The Witch Trials, features Yvonne Pawlett‘s cheap keyboard and the metallic sheen of Martin Bramah‘s guitar, both soon to disappear from the lineup.
2. Before The Moon Falls – by the end of ’79, only Smith and Marc Riley remained from the first LP. The tenure of bassist Steve Hanley and guitarist Craig Scanlon begins on Dragnet. The production recoils from the bright clarity of Witch Trials. Smith paraphrases William Blake: “I must create a new regime or live by another man’s.” An ex-Fall member is quoted on the album’s back cover: “I bet you’re laughing your head off at this, aren’t you Smith?”
3. C & C’s Mithering – An epic travelogue and a tirade against the music industry, from 1980’s Grotesque. An odyssey that spans two continents and three months, set to two chords and three beats.
4. The Container Drivers – The Fall could be funny. This is from the third of The Fall’s 24 Peel Sessions. It is a portrait of truckers on speed, with observations culled from Mark’s job on the docks. One moment that always makes me smile is around 1:45, when Paul Hanley fires off an overlong drum roll.
5. Winter – 1982’s Hex Enduction Hour is often named as The Fall’s finest album. This song is the first half of a ghost story: you flipped the LP over when it ended to hear the conclusion of the tale. Storytelling was a significant part of Smith’s writing in the 1980’s (cf. Wings, Spectre Vs. Rector, The NWRA and New Face In Hell). There were fewer narrative songs in the decades to follow.
6. Room To Live – The Room To Live album was something of a disappointment. How could it not be, just six months after the spellbinding Hex? Some of the songs seem morose, but the title track is a high-spirited Country & Northern romp.
7. I Feel Voxish – Marc Riley cowrote this song, but was fired before it was recorded. Smith plays with assonance in the phrases “pillbox crisp” and “feel voxish”. Perverted By Language (1983) was The Fall’s last album for Rough Trade, and the first to feature Brix Smith.
8. Slang King – “This is Mr. and Mrs. Smith to whom you are speaking.” Mark was a slang king, a perverter of language, and an inventor of words like “corporatulent”. Here he explores alliteration and onomatopoeia: whip wire, swoop swoop. 1984’s Wonderful And Frightening World Of The Fall was the group’s first LP for Beggar’s Banquet.
9. L.A. – The lyrics to this tune are few, outnumbered by Mark’s wordless falsetto and percussive vocalizations. L.A. is a showcase for Brix as a guitarist, and a tribute to her birthplace. Near the end she quotes from the movie Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls: “This is my happening, and it freaks me out!” LCD Soundsystem recently used the same line. (This Nation’s Saving Grace, 1985)
10. US 80’s-90’s – A critique of modern American Puritanism from 1986’s Bend Sinister. Smoking bans and the “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign of the Reagan era signified a sociopolitical shift since The Fall’s first US visit. This song and L.A. foreshadow the synthesizer friendly Fall Sound of the 90’s. There’s also a reference back to the first track of this ICA, as Smith calls himself “the big shot original rapper” but adds that “it’s time for me to get off this crapper.”
Mark E. Smith was a vocalist, songwriter and bandleader unlike any other. The Fall seemed to expect more from their listeners, and to give up their secrets less readily. I was a suburban American teen when I first heard The Fall. I couldn’t completely grasp what they were doing. Still I was enchanted, and soon obsessed. The music was uniquely compelling, and for me it remains so.
JC adds…..huge thanks to Jonder for being so patient….this ICA landed in the Inbox months ago. That’s the last of the backlog cleared, so if anyone else wants to a go, then feel free to drop me a line…I promise you shouldn’t have long to wait to see your work appear in print!